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Thursday, Sept. 18, 2003 02:20 pm

Best of Springfield, part two

Best idea out of City Hall

The departure of Chief John Harris


Best Democrat

1. Tim Davlin
2. Dick Durbin
3. Jesse White

Best Republican

1. Tony Libri
2. Larry Bomke
3. Raymond Poe


Best Teflon politician

1. Tim Davlin
2. Rod Blagojevich
3. Neil Williamson

Best departure from public office

1. George Ryan
2. Karen Hasara
3. John Harris

Best reason to go downtown on Sunday

We added this category in the hopes that someone out there would come up with a great answer. Surely someone smarter than us knows of a diner serving breakfast, a bookstore or record shop we could browse, or a sidewalk cafe where we could sit and read while sipping coffee.

But, alas, if you aren't craving communion at a church or can't indulge in brunch at Café Brio, there's apparently just not much of a reason to go downtown on Sunday. (DR)

Peace and quiet

Best place to buy a CD

Readers have spoken: Best Buy is the best place to buy a CD. The prices are good and the selection is too. You can check out what you want to purchase at various listening stations, plus pick up a washer and dryer while you're at the popular westside superstore. But when it comes to personal service, special ordering, or good old-fashioned ambience, you can't beat Recycled Records on Adams Street in downtown Springfield. The Kessler brothers will get you whatever your heart desires--special orders from obscure labels are routine. They also carry the largest selection of local music in town. And if you can't find it on CD, mosey upstairs to see whether it's available on one of the thousands of used LPs in stock. Recycled Records may not have any appliances, but keep an eye out for all kinds of odds and ends--old beer signs, costume jewelry, furniture, musical instruments, and used stereo equipment line the walls and shelves of this wonderfully peculiar establishment, a superstore in it own right. (TI)

Editor's choice
Recycled Records
625 E. Adams
525-5122

Readers' choice
1. Best Buy
2. Recycled records
3. Circuit City

Best live music venue

It's still the new kid in town, but the Underground City Tavern is already a favorite among Illinois Times readers. And to think, a little over a year ago, the downstairs saloon at the Hilton was called Erkle's Sports Bar, rimmed with TVs tuned to nonstop games and decorated with sports-related memorabilia. Then club manager Brian Reilly and Hilton head Michael Fear decided this old town could use a spot dedicated to American roots music. In the last year, the Underground City Tavern has booked Commander Cody, Robbie Fulks, and Big Sandy and the Fly-Rite Boys, among countless others. It hosts live music four to six nights a week. It's also the clubhouse for the Sangamon Valley Roots Revival, that wonderful organization dedicated to bringing all-American music to Springfield. Coming in at a respectable third place is the Alamo, the home bar of the weekly Blue Mondays jam of the Illinois Central Blues Club. The Fifth Street watering hole has no stage and bouncy acoustics, but it pulls in great crowds. It also books local duos and small bands in its beer garden every Friday evening during the warmer weather, and it hosts an occasional bar band on Saturday or Wednesday nights. Enough readers were thinking outside of the box--and probably on the dirt track--to put the Illinois State Fair Grandstand at a solid number two. The mediocre 2003 lineup makes you wonder whether these votes affirmed the allure of the fair or the pleasant memories of years gone by. Springfieldians are obviously fond of the cavernous outdoor arena, regardless of the entertainment offered there. (TI)

Underground City Tavern
Hilton Springfield
Seventh and Adams
789-1530

Best jukebox

The term "jukebox" was first used in the South during the 1930s, according to Inventors.com. Experts claim the name either came from the word "joot" (African-American slang meaning "to dance") or "jook" (a word for "disorderly" or "wicked"). It was considered a derogatory term and wasn't embraced by the manufacturers of the machines until the public finally overruled the official Automatic Coin-Operated Phonographs. Whatever the origins of the name, you'll find jukeboxes in nearly every tavern, bowling alley, and greasy spoon in town, waiting for you to drop in loose change to play your favorite songs. Illinois Times readers decided D.H. Brown has the best jukebox in Springfield. On a lazy Monday afternoon, I asked a 20-something blonde woman who was examining the song selection in the Monroe Street bar why she thought this jukebox could possibly be the best in the capital city. "It's free," she said. "And it's got everything on it." Well, not quite free and not quite everything, but she was close. "You get 99 plays for a dollar," said bartender Ed Kurth. "And we put stuff on it we used to play on the stereo in here that everybody liked." The paid-for plays totaled 441 at the time I was there, and that's pretty darn close to being free. Selections ranged from country (I heard Johnny Cash belting out "Ring of Fire") to classic rock, some contemporary Top 40 to several Billboard greatest hits collections. Of course, what makes a good jukebox depends on the taste of the selector, and each business attempts to cater to its patrons. Floyd's Thirst Parlor carries Jimi Hendrix, Frank Sinatra, Bob Marley, and Willie Nelson. The Underground City Tavern is heavy with country and alt-country. Downtown Gallina's has a selection of older Top 40 tunes with a few choices straight from the mother country, sung in Italian. And that is the real beauty of a jukebox, whether it's "free" or you have to "put another quarter in" (inflation affects song lyrics too): the customer is always in charge. (TI)

D.H. Brown
231 E. Monroe
525-0381

Best jazz group

When jazz is on the line, folks in Springfield look to Jane Hartman for the best. Hartman, a pianist and vocalist, fronts her trio, plays with the Riverboat 5 + 1 (she's the 1), and teaches music theory, jazz, and music history at Lincoln Land Community College. She gives her mother the credit for noticing her "budding music inclination" at an early age. "She thought I had a good ear back and asked my teacher to respect that," Hartman says. "I think it was unusual for her to recognize how lessons can sometimes change a natural inclination for music." After some 20 years playing live music and several top finishes in past Best of Springfields, her popularity shows no signs of waning. Her record sales would make any hard-rocking local band drool with envy. With three studio recordings under her belt, and sales into the several thousands, she also qualifies as Springfield's top recording artist. "Springfield has been very good to me," says Hartman. "There are wonderful musicians to work with and plenty of places to play." And what is the driving force behind her talent? "I feel you should strive for excellence in whatever you do," she says. "I'm very fortunate to love what I'm doing." Springfield seems to love it too, Jane. (TI)

1. Jane Hartman Trio
2. elevator shoe
3. Footprints

Best 3 a.m. bar

Not too long ago, 3 a.m. liquor licenses were a rare commodity, limited by the powers-that-be to a few select taverns. Now it seems every joint in town can get a late-night license, and the field in this category has broadened. Voters fought through the morass and picked Stella Blue, an infant in tavern years, just hatched in the spring of 2003, as our best 3 a.m. bar. The popular late-night spot also has a built-in drunk test: the steep stairwell one must maneuver to reach the bar above Sebastian's on Fifth Street. Once you make it to the top, you'll find the decor posh, the bathrooms mod, and most of the clientele just above drinking age. Other readers picked the more mature Chantilly Lace as the place to continue the night when you probably ought to be heading home to bed. The south-side 3 o'clocker features dancing and an actual dance floor, which is a rarity among Springfield bars. Jazz Central Station, high atop the mighty Hilton, comes in at a respectable third place. The 30th-story bar has drifted away from its original jazz charter and books mostly original rock and funk on Friday with blues and non-traditional jazz carrying the weight on Saturday. But you'll still see some swing and straight jazz groups in the mix now and then. Other notable early morning stops deserving honorable mention include Viele's Planet, Mr. J's, Rockin' Robin's, Underground City Tavern, and the Curve Inn. Still on the wish list is a quiet spot for those uninterested in meat markets, shots of mysteriously colored liquor, and dancing to too-loud music. Maybe someday there will be such a place in the late-night life of Springfield. (TI)

Stella Blue
221 S. Fifth

Best original band

Mr. Opporknockity is a Springfield favorite. The quintet began as a duo in 1998, when buddies Troy Roark and Doug Gholson got together to sing and strum guitars. After WDBR introduced a Mr. O song called "Lisa's Shirt" into their regular rotation, the group expanded to a quartet with bass and drums. They later added a fifth member on vocals, percussion, harmonica, and accordion. They play a few bars, lots of special events, and keep a mailing list of a couple thousand fans notified of upcoming shows. Big events in the band's career include opening for Journey at the Illinois State Fair Grandstand and guesting on Michael Feldman's Whad'Ya Know public radio program when it was held last year in the Sangamon Auditorium at UIS. Their music is bouncy and fun. It's fun to dance to, and the words are good too. Future plans include promoting the new CD (it's their third) and continuing to expand their influence outside of the area. Oh yes, and keep writing those songs--Springfield digs 'em. Yeah, yeah, yeah. (TI)

1. Mr. Opporknockity
2. Resident Genius
3. elevator shoe

Best open-mic night

Springfield seems to go in cycles in this category. Some years there are only a few open-stage venues, and suddenly there's an open-mic on every corner. Our fair city is currently on the upswing. But our intelligent and observant readers sorted through the crowd to choose Andiamo's on Thursday night--the town's longest-running and most consistent open stage--as numero uno. Hosts Jeff Berendt and Keith whatshisname have recently started using their full band, Second Harvest, to entertain before and after the open mic part of the show. The party peaks in the summer months, spilling out onto the sidewalk, where the music is piped through outdoor speakers, a rather unique concept to Springfield bargoers. Recent changes in city attitudes have forced the booze inside after 9 p.m., but the music and the open-mic attendees roll on. Other music free-for-alls are presently flourishing at the Underground City Tavern (the second-place finish) and Bootlegger's on Tuesdays, Dempsey's and the Underground City Tavern on Wednesdays, the Stumble Inn and Stella Blue on Thursdays, Major Leagues in Taylorville on Sunday, and Marly's Pub and Ollie's on Monday. The Poets and Writers Literary Forum won the third-place slot for their poetry and prose open stage at Imo's held on every other Wednesday. Want more? The Funny Bone Comedy Club hosts a comedy open-mic on the first Wednesday of every month for budding young comedians. For all you first-time open micers, remember each host usually has their own set of rules for sign-ups, playing time, and instrument usage, so be smart and careful and call ahead or be dumb and brave and just show up. (TI)

Andiamo
206 S. Sixth
523-3262

Best local CD release

1. elevator shoe, On the Roof
2. Frank Parker, Just a Taste of New Orleans
3. The Mugshots, Vodka Lemonade

Best gospel group

Neyna Johnson, Tracie Shaw, Paula Irby, and Esther Davis don't attend the same church, but they have long traveled in the same gospel-choir circles. "We had known each other and heard each other for years," says Shaw. "You hear some people sing and then you hear some people who saaaang," she says with an exaggerated drawl and a knowing smile. The reason the four decided to form a group in 1998 is simple. Each knew the other could "saaaang." Since then, they've held recitals at Illinois College in Jacksonville, performed at Martin Luther King Jr. prayer breakfasts in Springfield, and, this winter, won first place in a St. Louis gospel choir contest. A few years ago they gained a little notoriety for a campaign ad they sang for Eve Blackwell-Lewis, a Republican running for Sangamon County recorder.

The Four Sopranos (Irby, a music major from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, also plays piano) sing spirituals and hymns and some contemporary songs. What sets them apart from other gospel choirs is the unique blend of their voices, creating a powerful soulful richness as gentle as it is overwhelming. They tend to look for songs that allow them to exploit their full range. Their material and their approach also benefit from resources they pull from their multi-denominational backgrounds (Baptist, Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, African Methodist Episcopal) and their places of origin (Springfield, Alton, Kansas, and Louisiana).

They're often asked whether they've recorded. They haven't. The prize for winning the St. Louis contest was supposed to be a record contract, but they haven't heard anything since winning.

"That's another story," says Davis.

"We don't know where this will take us," Davis says. "But wherever God takes us is fine with us." But as they wait to see what the Lord wants, they wouldn't mind a call from someone with good recording equipment. (PS)

The Four Sopranos can be reached at 544-3825 (Shaw) or 241-9275 (Irby). They can be e-mailed at the4sops@hotmail.com.

Editor's choice
The Four Sopranos

Readers' choice
The Fantastic Jones Family


Best buffet

Getting sushi at Buffet City requires negotiating an obstacle course of taste-tempting selections. The sushi is way in the back, past the salad bar piled high with fresh veggies and a tub of Waldorf; past the dessert bar with four kinds of cake and a couple of different pastries; past the fruit bar with a half dozen kinds of fruit and a few puddings; past the soup bar, which shares space with pot stickers, dumplings, and eggrolls; and past the bar of kiddie favorites--pizza, mashed potatoes, and fried chicken. Call it finding Nemo: by the time you get to the sushi, well, you might be too full of real food to want the raw fish. There's Mongolian barbecue back there too, if you like to create your own feast. The food is always fresh, delicious, and amazing in its abundance: Even the $5.25 daily lunch buffet includes several seafood selections. Top it all off with soft-serve ice cream, and you just might decide to skip dinner. (DR)

Buffet City
1774 Wabash Avenue
787-8299


Best pizza

About 20 years ago Sam's opened its doors and started making pizza that's as good as any thin-crust from Chicago. Sam Pensabene (Pen-sah-ben-ay, "think well" in Italian) was the owner and brought his family's recipes over from the old country. Sam died in 1992, and the place is now owned by his brother-in-law, Joe Porcasi, who used to own Joe's on Jefferson. Porcasi sold Joe's 20 years ago, before returning to Sicily for a while. Sam's son John owns Sam's II Italian Pizza in Sherman.

Sam's, Joe's and Sam's II all started with the same family recipe, but their pizzas taste different, says Grace Thompson, Sam's daughter and Joe's niece. "They all started out with the recipe," Thompson says, "but different cooks, how you measure things--Joe's 'pinch' of something isn't the same as John's." Thompson helps out at Sam's along with Joe, Joe's wife, Caterina, several cousins, and a couple "non-family" workers.

Sam's atmosphere is "classic pizza joint." The walls are covered with photos of Italian celebrities, local politicians, and relatives. If Joe's taking a break at a table near the front when you drop in to pick up your order, he might just thank you by name. (PS)

Editor's pick
Sam's Italian Restaurant
713 North Grand
522-9111

Readers' choice
1. Imo's Pizza
2. Joe's Italian Pizza
3. Gabatoni's Restaurant


Best pizza delivery person

Personality is just as important as the pie, says Vito Gallina. "A good attitude and kindness" are the key ingredients to being a good pizza deliveryman. "Be nice to the customers." Gallina, 27, is the son of Joe Gallina, owner of Gallina's, which has been dishing out pizzas since 1978. He began delivering his dad's pizzas when he was 16 years old. Even before he had his driver's license, Vito would walk to the downtown pizzeria after school and then deliver the fresh, hot pies on foot. "I like doing it--it keeps the restaurant going," he says. Like his three brothers, he works 10- to 14-hour days, six days a week, to make sure that hot pizzas are delivered to hungry customers within a half hour to 45 minutes after an order is placed. He intends to remain in the family business, "if the Lord is willing," he says.

While Gallina was deemed the winner in this category, there are actually two Vito Gallinas. His cousin Vito works at the restaurant's Riverton location. At age 23, that Vito Gallina has worked for the family business, on and off, since 1991. He shares his cousin's philosophy, as well as the family name. "Be nice to people and be fast," he says. "And make sure the pizza is warm." (PZW)

Vito Gallina

Best horseshoe

Since opening its doors in 1998, D'Arcy's Pint has made a name for offering hearty traditional Irish fare like Shepard's Pie and Dublin Pot Roast. Don't bother trying to get a table on St. Patrick's Day, when the neighborhood pub is packed with patrons donning green and downing pints of Guinness. But despite its Irish heritage, its take on the horseshoe sandwich seems to be as popular, if not more, than its corned beef and cabbage. It's what keeps customers coming back for more. In a city where this cholesterol-laden concoction is king, not just any pile of meat, bread, fries, and cheese will do. It takes something special to stand out from the rest. And D'Arcy's offers 12 varieties of the Horseshoe, including vegetable, ham, corned beef, turkey, bacon, hamburger, grilled chicken, breaded tenderloin, roast beef, walleye, and the "deluxe"--seasoned ground beef, onion, and bacon bits. It's all served over Texas toast, piled high with thick fries, and topped with homemade white cheese sauce. But the signature version--and the customer favorite--is the Buffalo Chicken Ponyshoe. Served with a kick and a side of hot sauce, and blue cheese or Ranch dressing, it's the pub's best seller. Besides the variety, however, everyone knows the cheese sauce is the key ingredient, and the sauce here is rich, white, and thick. Manager Karyn Herndon says that's the secret. "It's the white cheddar cheese sauce, made fresh every day, at least that's what my customers tell me." While Herndon admits no one has ever attempted to calculate the calories in one of her horseshoes, there are customers who just can't get enough. They no longer even have to speak. "Some people come in three times a week, sit at the bar, and just nod their head," she says. (PZW)

D'Arcy's Pint
2413 S. MacArthur
726-9800


Best brunch

Maybe it's the dizzying array of more than 40 menu items or the elegant atmosphere created by the crisp table linens. Perhaps it's the sounds of Ed Clark at the piano or the fresh flowers accenting each table in the mauve-and-burgundy dining room. It could be the complimentary champagne served at noon or the free two-hour parking for customers. Or it might just be a matter of the senses.

It hits you even before you see the two chefs located in the front of Lindsay's, waiting to take requests for pasta and omelets. "You can smell the garlic as you're walking down the hallway," says Diane Westfall, director of restaurants at the Renaissance Springfield Hotel. "You can follow your nose right to the dining room."

And that's only the beginning: The brunch menu includes eggs Benedict, sausage, bacon, bagels and lox, peel-and-eat shrimp. Fresh bread is delivered from Chicago daily. There are additional lunch entrees, such as pork loin with Marcella peppercorn sauce, pesto-encrusted salmon, and chicken with sundried tomatoes and roasted vegetables. And then comes the desserts: a table laden with cakes, cookies, Haagan Daas ice cream, crepes, and the popular Bananas Foster.

The restaurant has served more or less the same brunch for 18 years, with occasional menu changes. "We've been consistent with quality and selection," says Westfall. "Nobody can do it like we do. If you walk away hungry, it's your own fault."

Ed Clark plays the piano every other Sunday and during the holiday brunches. The cost is $16.95 for adults. (PZW)

Editor's choice
Lindsay's
Renaissance Hotel
701 E. Adams
544-8800

Readers' choice
1. Cafe Brio
2. Crowne Plaza
3. Lindsay's

Best Mexican restaurant

Next to the cash register, there should be something like a cake plate lined with a paper doily and stacked full of pecan pralines. The pralines should sparkle with bits of undissolved sugar and they should be irregular enough that you pause several minutes, tongs poised, trying to focus on the biggest, nuttiest one. At night, there should be a mariachi band strolling from table to table, forcing diners to tip them to go away. Finally, the ceiling should be completely (not just partially) covered with pinatas, which would all be for sale.

Take it from a Texan who knows Mexican restaurants: That's all Xochimilco needs to achieve perfection. It's already got everything else just right. (DR)

Xochimilco
3210 Northfield (544-9206)
2941 W. Iles (546-3116)

Best fish

It's sort of strange how nobody chats in the line outside Carter's fish shack. It's not like we're reading the hand-lettered menu posted on the side of the fish wagon; the selections are simple and we've seen them all before. It's not like we don't share anything in common, because here we are, all sweating in the hot sun, waiting patiently for fish frying inside the little wooden hut. Personally, I think it's because once you get to the line, you're so close to the fish you can't really think of anything else.

At Carter's, for something like 5 bucks, you get a "sandwich," meaning two pieces of bread and an enormous slab or two of boneless walleye (or catfish or buffalo carp). Perhaps if your job involves shoveling coal in a mine, you might be hungry enough to finish a Carter's-size serving; otherwise, take a friend and share the love. (DR)

Carter's
1900 South Grand East
525-2571

Best place to take your in-laws

1. Sebastian's
1. Augie's Front Burner
1. Capisce?

Best cheap eats

We interrupt this issue of Best of Springfield to report a crime: For almost 20 years, Illinois Times has published some version of this "best of" concept and never--never once!--has D & J Cafe won an award for anything. Apparently no one noticed the consistently crowded parking lot at the little restaurant on the corner of Laurel and State. No one noticed the line out the door on Sunday mornings. No one noticed parishioners sneaking out of Blessed Sacrament mass early to skip down the street to snag a table.

Well, this year, the little diner has won not just one but two honors. Their breakfast (readers' choice as the best in Springfield) is available throughout the day (5 a.m. to 8 p.m.) and can include side orders like fresh fruit or biscuits with homemade gravy. We also recommend the American fries with veggies, and be sure to say you want them "crisp." As for cheap eats, the most expensive item on the menu is the 8-ounce ribeye for $9.25, but you can get the plate lunch special--meatloaf or chicken fried steak, for example, with potatoes and a vegetable--for just $4.50.

Dennis Price, who owns the cafe with his wife, Brenda, has been in the restaurant business practically all his life. He started at age 14 as a dishwasher at the Fleetwood, and eventually became chef at the Chardel Supper Club. The Prices opened D & J, named for their sons Dennis Jr. and John, on October 1, 1974. It's about time they got an award!

And now, since we're making ourselves very hungry, we return you to your regularly scheduled Best of Springfield reading. (DR)

D & J Cafe
915 W. Laurel
753-1708

Best breakfast

Hospital food? Well, yes and no. It's not the stuff the patients get. Miller Street Market, inside the Memorial Medical Center, serves the stuff the doctors, visitors, and hospital employees chow down on. But the cafeteria-style restaurant is also open to the public. The food is tasty and, for the most part, healthy.

I first discovered the place--one floor down from the main lobby--two years ago, when my wife suddenly had to check in to deliver our son six weeks earlier than expected. We all practically lived there for about a week, and I often found myself looking forward to breakfast downstairs. Breakfast is served daily seven days a week from 6:30 to 10 a.m. The selection is too large to list.

The Market could have also been in our "cheap eats" category. Consider exhibit A: my family's breakfast receipt from a few days ago. Four French toast sticks, two small orange juices, one 8-ounce carton of milk, two servings of scrambled eggs, two strips of bacon, one sausage link, two servings of hash browns, and a banana, all for $6.70! (PS)

Editor's choice
Miller Street Market
Memorial Medical Center

Readers' choice
1. Bob Evans, D & J Cafe (tie)
3. Brewhaus

Best pastries

Jubelt's Bakery
2343 W. Monroe
793-5161


Best barbecue

Corky's Ribs & BBQ
3458 Freedom Drive
787-2227

Best Italian

Saputo's
801 E. Monroe
544-2523

Best bread

Panera
3101 W. White Oaks
726-5070

Best beer selection

Brewhaus
617 E. Washington
525-6399

Best dessert

The unequaled queen of Chocolatia, the dense Queen of Sheba torte, has been a Maldaner's tradition for more than 20 years. Chef Michael Higgins' wife, Nancy, adapted a traditional French recipe for this fabulous flourless cake. Made with three types of chocolate--unsweetened, semi-sweet, and white--it's flavored with coffee and brandy, iced with a chocolate glaze, and drizzled with raspberry sauce. And Chef Higgins points out, he uses only fine imported chocolate from Europe. The Sheba is wonderfully dense, smooth and creamy, but not totally decadent like a creme brulee. And it's refreshingly cool on a warm day because Maldaner's serves it chilled. If you haven't tried it, you're missing one of the best things about Springfield! (GL)

Editor's choice
Queen of Sheba
Maldaner's
222 S. Sixth
522-4313

Readers' choice
1. Bakers Square
1. Culver's

Best chef

Michael Higgins
Maladaner's

Best take-out

Magic Kitchen became an instant Springfield institution when it opened in the mid-1980s. Current owner Sue Thongsithauong says her busy joint--expect to wait for a seat on the weekends--has an equally busy take-out service. What makes its take-out great is you can call and have your food in about 15 minutes--the time it takes to hang up the phone and drive there.

The restaurant's Thai cuisine is reasonably priced. Meals range from $5.75 to $6.75, Thongsithauong says. Its famous pies are also made for take-out.

There's another reason why Magic Kitchendeserves best take-out honors. Next spring, there will be two of them. Construction for the new site, at Carpenter and Rutledge, begins later this fall. The only noticeable difference is the new place will serve alcohol. (PS)

Editor's choice
Magic Kitchen
4100 Peoria Road
525-2230

Readers' choice
1. Imo's Pizza
2. Magic Kitchen

Best Coffeehouse

When Kate Hawkes opened Trout Lily in 1999, she did not follow the usual recipe for restaurant success. For starters, she had almost no hospitality experience, just a few years in the early 80s of co-owning the No Baloney Sandwich Shop, which was pretty much run by her ex-husband. For Trout Lily, Hawkes chose a space that lacked a kitchen, thereby limiting her menu to items she could bake in a convection oven, keep in a fridge, and re-heat in a microwave. And finally, she designed the place as a reflection of her personality, which, she admits, is kind of weird.

"I have friends who have told me for 20 years I should move to Northern California, because there I would fit in," she says. And she shrugs. She's staying here. She has been in Springfield all her life.

Her cafe feels like California--an oasis in downtown Springfield on Sixth Street. Peace activists leave fliers on the bulletin board, groups of poets and writers gather at the larger tables, and musicians entertain during lunch. The daily quiches, which Hawkes prepares herself, are made with veggies purchased at the downtown Farmers' Market and herbs grown in the planter in front of the restaurant. There are also pastries, soups, and sandwiches, plus several kinds of coffee, including iced coffee made with coffee ice cubes.

Hawkes hopes to someday be open on Sundays. For now, Trout Lily is open 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. (DR)

Trout Lily Cafe
218 S. Sixth
391-0101

Best shakes

There are only a few places in town that offer a genuine milk shake. You know, the kind that's made without yogurt or custard or, heaven forbid, crushed ice. Don't even get me started about the places that sell pre-mixed shakes that ooze out of machines. Still, among the few establishments in Springfield that make the real thing, fewer get it just right. Bachmann-Keefner's Barb Cox gets it about as perfect as you'll ever know a shake to be.

Cox manages the counter at the pharmacy and soda fountain that's been in downtown Springfield since about 1912. Cox has been there for a couple of decades herself.

She isn't one to reveal much about her shakes, like the brand of syrup or ice cream, or the portions of the ingredients. She's more likely to make small talk with regulars who sit on one of her stools and scratch lottery tickets. A few things we do know: She uses real ice cream (possibly from Bunn), syrup (not powder), and a small carton of whole milk (this is not meant as a daily dietary staple--it's a treat, doggoneit!). Her blending produces a creamy shake that's not too thick--it's always a judgment call to drink with a straw or eat with a spoon. And, as it should be, the syrup adds just enough coloring that the milk and vanilla ice cream flavors don't disappear. At less than $2, her shakes are also a bargain.

Bachmann-Keefner sells chocolate (our favorite), strawberry, vanilla, and cherry shakes. They are available during weekdays from noon to 2:45. (PS)

Editor's pick
Bachmann-Keefner
530 E. Capitol
523-2431

Readers' choice
1. Steak-n-Shake
2. Culver's
3. Baskin Robbins

Best happy-hour munchies

Alexander's Steakhouse
620 Bruns
793-0440

Best place to feed the family

Ryan's Family Steak House
3150 Chatham
787-4300

Best barber

Beggs Barber Shop has only one chair and only one barber, David Beggs. But ask him if he works there alone and he gives a peculiar answer:

"Just me and my customers," he says.

What do they do?

"Talk trash," Beggs says. "You know: What's wrong with the country and the Cardinals. What's wrong with the Bears now."

Sounds like important stuff.

"Every day this country runs better 'cause of barber shops," Beggs says.

Just 30, Beggs has been cutting hair for 12 years. He took over the shop when his dad retired. His dad had been cutting hair since 1950. Beggs never considered any other career.

"All I do is sit around and B.S. all day and occasionally cut hair," he says. "What more could I ask for? I might run for president some day. Who better to run the country than a barber?" (DR)

Dave Beggs
Beggs Barber Shop
2623 S. Sixth
525-1244

Best hair stylist

Val Chiaro
Famous Salon
2751 Chatham
787-4247

Best tanning salon

The Sun Room
1754 Wabash
546-8608

Best Grocery Store

Schnucks Supermarket

Best body piercing

Most of the staff at New Age Tattoos and Body Piercing are walking catalogs. They have tattoos, piercings, and "other things." They are artists, they say, and the body is their canvas--or pin cushion, depending on how you look at it.

"We pierce anything you can pull free from your body," says owner Jason Lee--one of the walking catalogs. He pretty much means everything--ears, chins, noses, tongues, cheeks, nipples, arms, and, yes, genitalia. "We do things that most people in Springfield can neither handle nor fathom."

Lee, 28, opened New Age about six years ago and, despite a little drop in business during construction on the MacArthur-Wabash curve (his business is behind Penny Lane), he's planning an 800-square-foot expansion next summer.

Piercings range from $30 (earlobes) to $100 (genitalia). Tattoos, which require more time, start at $50 and can cost as much as $700. All the artists are certified, knowledgeable of anatomy, and up-to-date on health and sanitation requirements--a source of pride for Lee. Customers are given a consultation before anything happens--just so they understand the consequences. Men, for example, are told that when their urethra is pierced down and out through the side they might very well leak. (PS)

New Age Tattoos and Body Piercing
2919 S. MacArthur
546-5006

Best public restroom

Stella Blue


Best place for family fun

Knight's Action Park

Best veterinarian

A woman, her friend, and the woman's small sheltie--cuddled snuggly in the friend's arms--sat patiently in the waiting room at Coble Animal Hospital on MacArthur earlier this week. I started asking the woman about her dog and its vet, Dr. Frank Coble, when one of Coble's assistants came to escort them to a back room. Before the woman disappeared, she said, "Dr. Coble saved one of our other dogs."

I didn't know that the sheltie had bone cancer and maggots. Coble uses a powerful anesthetic, he says, that puts a suffering pet to sleep--permanently--in about three seconds. He had a few minutes before applying it to the sheltie. "It had a bad weekend," Coble says warmly.

Coble, 58, has been a Springfield vet for 33 years. His father, Frank Sr., was also vet, establishing his practice in 1941 before handing it off to his son. Frank Sr. died in 2001.

Coble is often at the top of the poll for Illinois Times' best veterinarian. His patients' owners say such things as "We don't know what we'd do without Dr. Coble," "I'd never think about taking Cinnamon to any other doctor," and "He takes time to explain about animals and is very gentle and caring." He's also known for "going the extra mile." Betty Hopkins--Cinnamon the poodle's owner--remembers when Coble sent the pooch's blood sample to two different universities for testing before deciding on a course of action.

"Pets can be good substitutions for a child, a wife, a good buddy," says Coble. "Pets are agreeable to you, don't talk back, and adapt to your habits. The only bad thing is that they don't live as long." Coble says he sometimes has to be as good a counselor as he is a doctor.

The two roles couldn't have been more evident when I spoke to him. A few minutes after I left his practice I knew the sheltie would be sound asleep. (PS)

Frank Coble
Coble Animal Hospital
2828 S. MacArthur
789-4200

Best thrift store

If you're a bargain hunter, you can't go wrong with any of Springfield's Goodwill stores. Skirts and sweaters cost $2.50 each; kids clothes are just $1.75 per piece.

But the Goodwill on Dirksen Parkway--newer than the others--is usually better stocked and more organized than the older stores. Kids clothes are sorted by gender and tops and bottoms, which makes shopping that much easier for busy moms. Plus, the Dirksen Parkway location has more dressing rooms than the older stores, so you don't waste your time standing in line. And if you're really into saving dough, watch for half-price sales at all the stores. (DR)

Goodwill Industries
2531 N. Dirksen
753-3620

Best dollar store

Deals
3151 S. Veterans Parkway

Best place to meet singles

Chatilly Lace
2660 S. Fifth
522-7447

Best rehab of a historic building or residence

In 1896 the block just to the east of the Stratton Building was farmland. That's when George Pasfield Jr. built his 8,000-square-foot Georgian mansion. The Pasfields were influential. When George Jr.'s father, a Civil War doctor and real estate developer, died in 1916, a newspaper described him as one of Springfield's wealthiest citizens and a "personal friend of Abraham Lincoln."

The Pasfields had moved out of the house by the early 1940s; it was divided into nine apartment units, according to current owner Tony Leone, a lobbyist and former Illinois House clerk. He's spent the past five years restoring it with most of the major work finished this summer. In the beginning, when he realized he was getting in over his head, he hired Springfield architect Bruce Ferry to do things right.

An English garden and brick patio accent the grand white exterior. The interior is stunning, with walnut and beech woodwork and plush rooms that Leone rents out for parties, meetings, and other social gatherings. "It's still a work in progress," he says. When asked how much money he put into it, Leone wouldn't elaborate beyond "I've lost track." (PS)

The Pasfield House
525-535 S. Pasfield
525-3663

Best place to have a fender bender

1. Wabash and Veterans
2. MacArthur and Lawrence
3. White Oaks and Iles
4. Clear Lake and Dirksen

Best vanity plates

HYOFSR
YMOMY
BLESS U2

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